In case you’re some kind of cave person that just thawed out of a glacier due to climate change, and haven’t been mainlining the news every day via social media, guess what! We’re in the midst of ramping up to a VERY IMPORTANT election. Most people are bitterly choosing sides, and arguing with friends, family members and strangers over two to four people: Clinton, Trump, and to a lesser but still very important extent, Johnson and Stein. Terrible things are being said and done, hate groups are endorsing candidates, people are realizing they have no actual idea what qualifies a candidate for the presidency. Basically, it’s bananas. In fact, its banana daiquiris, because, goddamn, who can get through this business without a drink? And whether you’re a jilted Bernie supporter, or some dude who lives in a Confederate Flag-festooned cabin in the Appalachian Mountains, you should care. However, this article isn’t about the Presidential election. We’ve been blasted nonstop for what feels like a life-time about the options for president. There are only 40 days left until the election, and most people have made up their mind about who they are picking for president.
You know what many people haven’t given a lot of thought to though? Their Congressional Representatives. Their Governor. Their local Ballot Initiatives. The things that are MUCH more likely to directly affect their lives. We have been so busy screaming at eachother in the closed room, echo chamber of the internet, many of us forgot to even vote in the Primary election this year, which had a turnout of less than 30% of eligible voters. That’s less than a third of voters. That means, statistically speaking, if you had three people, less than one of them voted in the primary.
Why should you, or I or anyone even care what else there is to vote about? I’ve talked to quite a few people, young and old, who don’t even seem to have a concrete grasp of what exactly that other stuff is. So at the Primary, many people may run for governor. In my state we had about ten people running for Governor including the incumbent. Only two got enough votes to have everyone have a chance to vote between them in the general election. There are ballot measures that have to do with the whole state, with just my specific Congressional District, with individual Utility Districts, with the School District, and with the County. There are choices to make about Public Land and Water Rights. If you are the kind of person who gets riled up about Standing Rock, Flint, and Black Lives Matter, then you should be paying attention to your local elections. The Judges are elected, and their careers are public. Police funding and the location, expansion, and militarization of the police force can be on the ballot. Water Rights, Land Rights and infrastructure expansion can all be on the ballot. If you really care, then pay attention to your local area as much as you pay attention to what is happening elsewhere.
Some of these types of things can seem “boring”, having to do with income tax versus property tax, but they can affect a lot of people, and it’s important to get informed about them. Read up. Does it disproportionately affect lower income people? Who is this measure or politician endorsed by? Use websites such as PoliticFact to do your own independent fact checking. It’s a little bit of work, but that’s part of the responsibility of being an adult who lives in a democracy.
Sometimes in elections its hard to focus on these issues, because they aren’t as glamorous, and the media focuses on the reality show that is the Presidential election. This tends to result in many people feeling angry, disillusioned, and disconnected from the system. When Bernie Sanders conceded, many of his former supporters criticized him for giving up, but didn’t see that he was focusing on many of these smaller, local issues across the country instead. Honestly, it has nothing to do with Bernie, or any particular politician. It has to do with us, and not listening to the cacophony, but finding the way to combat that sense of overwhelming disillusionment and locking back in to things that matter.
If we ever forget why we should vote instead oh simply giving in to that feeling of helpless rage, any one of us, we should remember what came before, and what it cost to be able to vote. That when this country was formed in 1776 only white, land owning males could vote. If you didn’t own property, if you had debt, if you were a woman, if you weren’t white, you didn’t have a voice in our new country. When George Washington was elected president in 1780, only 6% of the population COULD vote.
In 1848 while Suffragettes and Abolitionists were joining forces in Seneca New York to call for Universal Voting Rights for Women and Blacks, Mexico had lost the Mexican-American War, making part of Northern Mexico, present day Arizona and New Mexico, part of the US. The US granted citizenship to Mexicans living in those territories, but they were prevented from voting through many tactics such as rigged voting tests, English-proficiency exams, and physical intimidation.
It wasn’t until 1856 that all white men were allowed to vote across the country, as North Carolina removed their requirement that property be a requirement to vote. They were the last state to do so. Being low income, even if you were white or male, was still very limiting then, even as it is now.
Post-Civil War in 1868, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was passed granting citizenship to former slaves, many of whom had fought for their freedom in the war. Voting, however was still specifically limited to males. In 1870 the 15th Amendment is passed stating that the Right to Vote cannot be abridged by the Federal or State government based solely on race. Instead, many cities, and entire states resorted to rigged tests and physical intimidated, as well as unfair and illegal Congressional redistricting to take power away from Black voters. These same tactics were used again and again, with Native Americans, Hispanic Voters, and many immigrant populations.
In 1876 the Supreme Court ruled that the 14th Amendment does not apply to Native Americans, so they do not have citizenship, and cannot vote, despite the 15th Amendment specifically stating that “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” In 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act passed, which prohibits people of Chinese ancestry from becoming citizens.
Then, in 1887 the Dawes Act passes, which granted citizenship to Native Americans who gave up their tribal affiliation and “assimilated” into American culture, which could include being forced to go to religious boarding school as a child, never seeing their families again, not being allowed to speak their own language, and not being able to practice their own religion, which specifically goes against the 1st Amendment. In 1890 this changed to a process similar to immigrants applying for citizenship, where Native Americans must apply for citizenship and gain approval. In 1919 the path to citizenship for Native Americans changed to include a route where serving in the military was another path to citizenship.
In 1872 Susan B. Anthony was arrested for attempting to vote, and former slave Sojourner Truth also attempted to vote and was turned away. Wyoming was added as a state in 1890 and was the first state to write their state constitution specifically allowing women to be able to vote. More and more women took to the streets in New York and Washington D.C. to protest demanding the vote, until in 1920 the 19th Amendment was passed granting women the right to vote.
The 1920s saw more racist voting laws passed against Asians and other minorities. The Supreme Court ruled that Japanese and Asian-Indian people were ineligible to become citizens in 1922. Three years later, Congress barred Filipinos from citizenship unless they had served three or more years in the military. At the same time, The Indian Citizenship Act passed, which granted citizenship to Native Americans, yet allowed for states to still legislate away Native American’s rights to vote. In 1947 Miguel Trujillo, a Native American, sued New Mexico for not allowing him to vote. He won and New Mexico and Arizona were required to give the vote to all Native Americans. Some Native American veterans of WWII returned home to find they were still unable to vote, or that roadblocks to voting had been put in their way. With the passage of the Voters’ Rights Act in 1965, Native American voting rights finally became federally protected, although there are still people, groups, or areas that try to suppress Native American voices. It wasn’t until 1952 when the McCarran-Walter Act granted all people of Asian ancestry the right to become citizens.
In 1961 the 23rd Amendment passed giving citizens of Washington, D.C. the right to vote for U.S. president. However, the district’s residents — most of whom were Black— still do not have voting representation in Congress. At this same time, many of these voters were facing obstacles registering to vote, as were other Black voters across the country. Problems such as poll taxes, rigged literacy tests, changing polling locations, physical intimidation, and many more in the Jim Crow Era. Black Voters worked to ensure that voting was treated as a civil right, and to make sure people could safely and fairly have their voices heard. Because of this, the 24th Amendment was passed prohibiting poll taxes, which had essentially barred low income people from voting.
The 1960s and 70s were also important because the LGBTQ community began to come out more and demand their own rights. Gay people were not specifically denied voting rights, but being gay was criminalized, and in many states being a felon causes you to lose the right to vote, either temporarily, and in many cases, permanently. So, by having something so intrinsic about someone be made illegal, essentially, state by state not only could they be put in prison, but they could lose their voice in the government that decided they should be put in prison. However, the LGBTQ community went from the Stonewall riots in the late 60s to federally recognized gay marriage, and gay and transgender people in the military in the 2000s. However, there is still a long way to go, as many states still have laws being voted on from Transgender Bathroom Bills, “Reparative” Gay Therapy, Disallowing Gay Couples to Adopt, and many more.
There are many other groups who I haven’t really discussed; young people, how the voting age was lowered to 18, and student debt. People with disabilities, and the battle for social inclusion, physical space, and against institutionalization. Whoever you are, and whatever lens you look at yourself with, there are people who came before you who gave their lives so you could have a voice in how this country runs, in what happens in your community, in what happens to you. Don’t be passive and let that opportunity pass you by. Honor their sacrifices, check out from the screamfest, and do a little bit of reading on all the issues that will be on your ballot. But no matter what, VOTE.
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